London, United Kingdom, Nov 24 – Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp on Tuesday welcomed the UK government’s decision to allow fans back into stadiums, a move described by the English Football League chief as a “lifeline” for smaller clubs.
Lower-league clubs, who do not enjoy the TV riches of the Premier League, have been struggling to make ends meet, with supporters shut out during the coronavirus pandemic.
But under plans unveiled on Monday, up to 4,000 people will be able to return to outdoor sports stadiums, depending on levels of Covid-19 in the area, from December 2.
Manchester City boss Guardiola welcomed the potential limited return of fans.
“If they believe it is the best, we will do it and hopefully it will work,” he said. “If the government has decided, they must have listened to the scientists and doctors.”
Liverpool manager Klopp also welcomed the development, but said he had questions about the logic being applied to the numbers involved.
“The problem is, I just struggle to put faith in any kind of announcements,” he said.
“I don’t understand why it is only 2,000 people in a 60,000 stadium. But I am not surprised. It’s good news, good sign. I’ll take it, 100 percent.”
– ‘Welcome start’ –
English Football League chairman Rick Parry told the BBC he was looking forward to getting fans back in more substantial numbers but it was a “welcome start”.
“At League One and League Two level (third and fourth tiers) it could be very significant,” he said. “It’s not just the money, it’s a very welcome return to an atmosphere, and if we get 4,000 at League Two level it would be very welcome. It can be a very welcome lifeline.”
The EFL is considering moving some of its fixtures scheduled for December 1 to the following day in order to get fans in.
Premier League chiefs have welcomed Monday’s announcement but made it clear that only a return to bigger crowds would ease the sport’s financial problems.
Brighton chief executive Paul Barber said the return of a small number of fans will be “more symbolic than financial” for Premier League clubs.
Barber believes Brighton’s Amex Stadium needs to be at least 25 percent full with 7,500 fans before matches would start to become financially viable.
“It’s welcome news. It’s a little bit earlier than we expected. But it’s a good first step towards some degree of normality,” he said.
“Long-term, it’s not viable for us to operate at those sort of levels. It would probably see us operating at a matchday loss. But I think it’s a psychological step towards where we want to be.
“For me, it’s more symbolic than financial at this stage. It’s more of that psychological step towards normal, which is really important right now.”
Three of the biggest clubs — Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City — are located in regions that were under the strictest “tier-three” conditions before the latest England-wide lockdown, so it remains to be seen whether they will be allowed to admit fans.
The Rugby Football Union is considering whether to use the climax to England’s Autumn Nations Cup campaign on December 6 as an opportunity to prepare for the eventual full return of supporters to Twickenham.
Eddie Jones’ side are likely to face France in the competition’s showpiece event, which could be staged in front of a crowd of up to 4,000 spectators if the area is considered to be one of low coronavirus risk.